Binyamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to “surround all of Israel with a fence” to protect the country from infiltration by both Palestinians and the citizens of surrounding Arab states, whom he described as “wild beasts”.
The Israeli prime minister unveiled the proposal during a tour of the Jordan border area in Israel’s south, adding that the project – which would cost billions of shekels – would also be aimed at solving the problem of Hamas infiltration tunnels from Gaza, a recent source of renewed concern.
He called the border project a part of a “multi-year plan to surround Israel with security fences to protect ourselves in the current and projected Middle East”.
Describing the need for new walls and fences on Tuesday, Netanyahu said: “In our neighbourhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts.
“At the end of the day as I see it, there will be a fence like this one surrounding Israel in its entirety. We will surround the entire state of Israel with a fence, a barrier.”
Netanyahu said the Israeli government was also examining ways of sealing gaps in the existing separation wall that runs along large areas of the occupied West Bank.
That separation wall – ordered to be built at great cost by former prime minister Ariel Sharon – was originally credited with a drop in the number of violent attacks by Palestinians in Israel, not least suicide bombings, a key feature of the second intifada in the first few years of this century.
That judgment has been undermined by the apparent ease with which Palestinians assailants have managed to enter Israel in the current wave of violence since October.
The war in Gaza in 2014 also demonstrated how easy it was for Hamas to tunnel beneath the barriers surrounding the coastal enclave into Israel itself.
“If you’re thinking of erecting a fence there you have to take into account that they could tunnel underneath it,” Netanyahu said. “The people who said that there is no significance to [retaining] territory in the modern age should go to Gaza.”
The proposal was, however, criticised by one of Netanyahu’s own cabinet ministers, education minister Naftali Bennett of the hard-right Jewish Home party, who has been embroiled in a series of recent disagreements over security policy with the prime minister.
Commenting on the proposal, Bennett said: “The prime minister spoke today about how fences are needed. We are wrapping ourselves in fences. In Australia and New Jersey there is no need for fences.”
Netanyahu’s use of the phrase “wild beasts” – also translated as “predators” – recalled his use of equally incendiary language about Israeli Arabs on the eve of last year’s elections whom he described as “coming out in droves”.
The prime minister made his comments as he visited a section of approximately 18 miles of fence being built from the Red Sea city of Eilat to near where Israel is constructing a new international airport. That alone is costing $77m (£53m). In 2013, Israel also completed a five-metre-high fence along its border with Sinai.
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